Category Archives: La Crosse Stories

The Stone Quarry on Grandad’s Bluff

The Stone Quarry on Grandad’s Bluff

A hundred feet or so to the left of the flag, the indentation of the tramway track now covered with shrubs and trees is still visible. The tramway was built in 1869.

The stone to be quarried was first stripped of its top soil, then dynamite was placed in holes made by a well drill to break the stone loose. Large chunks of stone were broken up by dynamite placed into holes made by an air drill. The stone was hauled down to the bottom by the unique tramway which consisted of two cars connected by a long cable. When the loaded car left the top the empty car at the bottom was pulled up. At the bottom the stone was dumped into a crusher and then carried on a belt to a rotation screen. The screen had different sections with openings of various sizes through which the crushed rock fell into bins. The finished product was transported by a railroad spur track. Andy North also worked at the quarry for eight years until it closed due to state regulations and the local objection to the destruction of the face of the bluff.

Early Catholic Churches in La Crosse

Early Catholic Churches in La Crosse

St. Mary’s
The first Catholic Mass held in common was in the old court house on August 24, 1855 by Rev. Henry Tappert, the first pastor and also the first resident priest of La Crosse County. Within one year, he erected a small frame church, 35×60, on the N.E. corner of 7th St. and Cameron Ave. called St. Mary’s. This was accomplished with difficulties since everyone was poor and there were only 25 Catholic families.
By 1874, the building had become too small and was moved to 805 West Ave. and remodeled into a residence. A new larger brick church was built on the same site.

St. Joseph’s Cathedral
In 1863, it was decided to divide the St. Mary’s parish by having the English and French remain at St. Mary’s and a new church, St. Joseph’s Cathedral, built for those who spoke German. Frank and Theodore Mader contributed money toward the purchase of the lot which cost $1,500.00. A parochial school was built first. The first mass was celebrated in the new church on the first Sunday in October of 1870. Without an architect, the German settlers themselves built the church by memory, favoring a German style of Gothic Revival. The Cathedral was built with Mader brick. There was not enough to finish the steeple until 1883. Florence recalls her father Frank Jr. telling her that because of a lack of funds, the Maders donated the brick for the steeple. (The old St. Joseph’s Cathedral was torn down when the new cathedral was built.)

St. Nicholas
The increasing Catholic population of La Crosse made it necessary to establish two new parishes, St. John’s on the north side and St. Nicholas on the south side. In 1887 six lots were purchased between North and South Park Streets and construction of the new church began. Dominick and Theodore Mader furnished the brick for the church. It was two stories, the first story used for school purposes and the second as a church. The first mass was held on Sunday, October 30, 1887 and the school was opened with 72 pupils.
By 1894, St. Nicholas Parish was replaced by a new and larger church dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity.

Dominick Mader’s Brick Yard in State Road Coulee

In State Road Coulee

Dominick’s brick yard had its beginning in 1858 when Gunkle and Bloomer of Ohio began the manufacturing of brick on State Road. Valentine Weimer operated the Gunkle and Bloomer kilns until he bought them out for $800 in 1862.

After Weimer’s death, Frank, Dominick, and David purchased the brickyard on the estate sale for $4,750 in January of 1878. On April 13th, the same day David sold his farm to Theodore, he gave Frank and Dominick his share for $1.00 Later that year on December 4th, Dominick bought out his brother Frank and became the sole owner. The brick yard had one shed.

Mamie (Mader) Herman wrote about the yard to her niece Margaret:

“…The brickyard shed was about 120 feet long. I think it could have three kilns at a time, when they were burning brick they used cordwood, and in later years, coal and peat was kept burning with a blower run by a gas engine. When the kilns got too hot, some of the boards on the roof of the shed were taken off. Art and Emily North were the kiln builders.
“August was the mud maker. He drove the team on the mud wheel. There were two men to fill the the molds with mud. Dominick Jr. and Henry were the carry off boys. They carried a mold the length of three bricks, from the molding table to the drying yard.
“After the bricks were dry they were built into hacks, and covered with two boards nailed together to form a trough, so they would not get wet, if it rained. They were called wash brick if they got wet and would not bring a good price.”

During the busy season up to 30 men were employed at the Mader brick works.(1) They were paid board plus a small salary. In the 1880’s workers received $25.00 to $50.00 a month. Brick making was seasonal work from May to September.

Dominick and Theodore furnished the brick for the first St. Nicholas Parish on 13th and Park St. They sold the brick at $6.00 per thousand.

The Cargill Mansion on Twelfth and Case Streets was built ca. 1880 of Mader brick selling at $4.75 per 1,000. The bricks were a special bargain during a slack season. The mansion was a residential show place of La Crosse. (The home was torn down by the Presbyterian Church.)

Three yards manufactured common brick around La Crosse in the 1890s; Dominick Mader, M.J. Meyer who opened in 1883 and the Schnell Brothers who opened in 1890.

Dominick owned the business 28 years before he sold it for $4,000 in April of 1906 to his nephew John Boma, who later dismantled the works.

(1) There is confusion between Dominick’s yard and the older one on David’s farm which the older family members don’t remember. The 30 employees could have been at either brick yard during a busy time. Family members recall the brick yard called “State Road Coulee Brick Yard.”

The Mader Stone House ca. 1856-1860

ca. 1856-1860

After the Maders —

1899 — Theodore sold the farm to Sara Hodge.
1902 — Sara Hodge sold to B.H. Sheffer of Sparta for $10,000
1911 — B.H. Sheffer sold to John Knoblock for $4,800
The Knoblocks were neighbors of the Maders from the top of Irish Hill. They gave a lot of parties with violin and accordion music in the stone house, which were attended by members of the Mader family in the area.
1947 — John Knoblock sold to Wm. Knoblock, no price given
1958 — Wm. Knoblock sold to Dr. George Murphy for $30,000
Dr. Murphy remodeled the stone house. He closed up the front door on the west side and made the living room into a den in which he used weather beaten boards off an old shed to insulate the stone walls. The two bedrooms downstairs became a sewing room and bathroom. It is believed the brick summer kitchen was torn down to build the new two-story addition in redwood siding. The new part included a kitchen and a two-sided fireplace between a new living room and dining room. (The “160 acres” was sold to Hass, a neighboring farmer, probably by Dr. Murphy
1977 — Mrs. Murphy sold to Raymond Hudson, no price given.
Ray Hudson subdivided David’s original “40 acres” into five acre lots and is presently selling them. Ray’s son is living in the stone house which now sits on five acres.

The Mader Brick Yard In State Road Coulee

In State Road Coulee

“…The Mader family did some farming but later on their chief occupation was making brick. They furnished most of the brick for many of the old buildings in La Crosse.”(1)

Frank Mader, Jr. told about the brick yard in a La Crosse Tribune article dated July 1, 1951.

“…Bricks made by the Maders were used in buildings from the river’s bank to Sixth Streets, including St, Joseph’s Cathedral and also St, Rose Convent farther out.(2) Many structures made of Mader brick still stand as sturdy as they were when they were erected.”
“The Maders provided employment for a crew of 30 which was considered a big payroll back then. Old records show that many men, later to rise to prominence in the business world of La Crosse, made their start helping to manufacture Mader bricks with which much of the city had been built.”

Frank Mader (Dominick’s grandson) said, “The old streets of La Crosse were made with Mader brick.”

The manufacture of brick was an important industry in the development of early LaCrosse. There was a great demand for brick before lumber became the chief building source. The Valley was rich in clay ideal for making brick, the brick being a substantial red sand mold brick.

The clay was soaked in vats overnight and mixed with a tempering wheel operated by horse power. The brick was molded by hand, dried in hacks on the yard, and burned in scove kilns. It required seven to eight days to burn the brick and about one-fourth of a cord of wood for each thousand brick burned. The cutting and aging of wood from the surrounding hillsides was the chief occupation in the winter.

It is not known when David and his sons began manufacturing brick on David’s land. Gumble and Bloomer opened a brick yard on neighboring land in 1858. The Maders could have learned the brick business on this brick yard, starting their own yard, ca. 1860-65. It is known that the Maders were early brick makers and that it was before 1870 when St. Joseph’s Cathedral was built and the cornerstone for St. Rose Convent was laid.

The Mader brothers operated the brick yard as David would have been too old to take an active part in it. When he sold it to Theodore in 1878 he was 80 years old.

(1) Pummel, Reminiscences of Early La Crosse (La Crosse: Liesenfield Press 1928) p. 20.
(2) The brick house at 1903 Barnebee Road in La Crosse is built from Mader brick of the old St. Joseph Cathederal. The owner who built the house personally cleaned all the brick by hand. (La Crosse Tribune). Mader brick was used in the oldest section of St. Rose Convent.

Prairie La Crosse in the 1850s


Entering Prairie La Crosse from the Mississippi River, a pioneer in August of 1854 described the area;

“Indian canoes bordered the shore and brown faces were more common than white. A high bank of white sand almost blotted the view of the village. Oxen was a common sight on the roads and village streets. The roads were terrible. The entire business section was bordered by Front, State, Third, and Pearl Streets. A few farms had been started on the prairie land.”(1)

The village was a bustling little settlement of log cabins and plain boarded houses built on the sand hills near the Mississippi River. The town had grown from five dwellings in April of 1851, to 79 buildings by April of 1853. Buildings were going up on every street. Steamboats landed daily with passengers and freight. Oxen pulled loaded wagons in every direction.

A recent census listed in the La Crosse Democrat April 24, 1853, gave the population as 548. The businesses being:

“…Four general stores; one drug, one hardware, one furniture, and one stoves and tine ware, three groceries, one bakery, one livery, one harness maker, four tailors, three shoemakers, one watch man, four blacksmiths, one wagon maker, one gunsmith, one wood turner, and one sawmill.”

The men were nearly all bearded. The well-to-do wore long black frock coats with high collars and stove pipe hats. The women wore their hair plainly smoothed, and their dresses that touched the ground were high necked and long sleeved. The blanketed Winnebago Indians swarmed about town in their native attire with paint and finery.

The Indians entered any home “without a rap.” They congregated on Third St. where they danced and whooped a great deal.(2) An account written in an early newspaper in 1855 said;

“The Indians did their regular war dance in La Crosse week before last. There were about 20 of them in the ring with half a dozen time beaters, and 30-40 outsiders, mostly squaws and papooses. The men were half-naked, greased and painted, feathered, ribboned, and armed with hatchets, bows, and guns. They danced and pow-wowed and kept up a hullabaloo around town during the day.”


(1) La Crosse Historical Society “La Crosse Co. Historical Sketches”, Series 4.
(2) History of La Crosse, WI 1841-1900, 1951.